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CCSD awarded $57K in fees after dismissal of mask mandate lawsuit

A federal judge has ordered two parents to pay about $57,000 in attorney fees to the Clark County School District after their lawsuit challenging a COVID-19 mask mandate was dismissed.

Parents Monica Branch-Noto and Tiffany Paulson filed the lawsuit in August on behalf of their children. It was dismissed in December, and the school district filed a motion in January seeking attorney fees.

The parents alleged that a mask mandate violated their students’ constitutional rights. They named the school district, Gov. Steve Sisolak and Attorney General Aaron Ford in the lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey wrote in an order Tuesday that the parents “hadn’t established a viable legal basis for their federal claims.”

Five attorneys and a paralegal spent about 228 hours on the case for the school district, with hourly rates between $200 and $330, according to court documents.

“These professionals spent significant time and effort in the face of a scattershot lawsuit asserting various, frivolous deprivations of constitutional rights,” Dorsey wrote.

The judge awarded the district $395 less than what it sought, saying evidence of local billing rates for paralegals is lower than the $200 an hour the district was seeking.

The parents who filed the lawsuit are represented by attorneys Sigal Chattah, the Republican nominee for attorney general, and Joey Gilbert, a former Republican candidate for governor who’s now contesting the June primary election results. They have represented other plaintiffs in similar lawsuits over pandemic-era mandates.

Chattah responded to a Las Vegas Review-Journal email Tuesday evening and sent a copy of a court transcript from a hearing in November, but but she did not provide a comment. The Clark County School District did not respond to an inquiry.

Earlier this month, the school district was denied attorney fees in a separate mask mandate lawsuit — which also was dismissed — where Chattah and Gilbert represented parents. An order was issued July 15 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Brenda Weksler.

Parents Jason Ruiz, Robert Parker and Erin Gomez filed a lawsuit in November on behalf of their children against Sisolak, Ford and the school district.

“Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction on the basis that the COVID-19 policies in place violated their fundamental right to parent as they see fit and make medical choices for their kids,” according to court records.

The district filed a motion in January seeking nearly $14,400 in attorney fees and said the parents’ claims were frivolous.

Plaintiffs had “little legal authority for their claims,” but it does not make their claims “frivolous,” Weksler wrote.

“That is because the coronavirus pandemic presented novel health issues, spurring Governor Sisolak and CCSD to issue emergency mask mandates,” she wrote, noting mandates were “a response to an unprecedented pandemic that required unprecedented government actions.”

Plaintiffs could not have supported their claim with “significant legal precedent because there was little to find,” Weksler wrote.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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